What do you think it takes to create a successful business? Money? Time? Both?
Before I answer that question I’d like you to meet someone who came up with a great idea on a Saturday, was in business by Monday and grew sales to the $1 million mark in a single year.
Her name is Maria Elena Ibanez.
It all started at a routine appointment at her hairdresser. There she happened to strike up a conversation with another customer who had a background in the Latino food business.
This impromptu meeting stimulated Maria Elena’s hunger… for opportunity. So much so that in that instant she made up her mind to become a major player in the Latino food industry.
That was in 2002.
By the end of year one, her business, Intermark Foods had $1 million in sales from four food products. By 2009 Maria Elena had led her company into the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest Growing Company for three years running.
It’s important to note that Maria Elena already had a background in business. In fact, she’d already launched two successful international computer distribution businesses and sold one. So, starting a business was nothing new.
But this new enterprise took her into an entirely different industry. In fact she knew nothing about the food business what so ever. Zip. Nada.
What she lacked in industry knowledge, Maria Elena made up for in her confidence to act on an opportunity when she saw one.
So, what can you learn from this “weekend business launcher” that can help you jumpstart your own entrepreneurial dreams? Plenty! Here are 5 essential lessons to get you started
Lesson 1: Find People Who Know More Than You Do
Stop thinking you need to know everything before you can begin. As Woodrow Wilson once said, “I use all the brains I have and all that I can borrow.”
There are lots of ways to tap the expertise of other people. You can partner with a subject matter expert, you can apprentice with an expert, you can pay someone to consult with you from time to time, or all of the above. The key is to ask!
Lesson 2: Create Your Own Crash Course
You don’t need to get an MBA or have worked in a field for 20 years to figure out the basics. Maria Elena ordered a couple of cases of books on Amazon and spent a few weeks creating her own crash course in the food and grocery industry.
Pretend your boss told you to put together a three month self-paced training program on how to make money growing irises in your backyard or how to get a syndicated talk radio show. You’d figure it out right?
If you want to be self-employed you need to start acting like the boss of you! Get busy making a list of what you need to know to move your dream forward.
Next create a plan for how you will learn what it is you need to know. Will you do a web search? Read a book? Make a phone call?
Then take one small step, and another and another until you have completed the plan.
Lesson 3: Trust Your Instincts
How many times have you seen a great business idea only to second guess yourself because you told yourself, it’s too “obvious”? Or, “If it’s such a good idea someone would have done it by now.” Nonsense.
Maria Elena built her brand by targeting an under-served niche in the Latin food market — dairy foods. How did she know to specialize there? Simple. She walked the aisles in the supermarket and looked for what was missing.
The key is to trust your instincts. If something looks like an opportunity, acts like an opportunity, and your gut is screaming, “Yes!” then pay attention!
Lesson 4: See Problems as Opportunities
Successful business owners understand that opportunities often come disguised as problems. For instance, Maria Elena could have pulled back during the slow economy. Instead she capitalized on it.
Cheaper rent and more available brainpower looking for work are just two reasons why she says an economic downturn is the best time to start a business.
What problem can you capitalize on right now? Lost your job? Can you use the extra time between job hunting to read a book on marketing or create a small profit center?
No idea what kind of business you could start that might actually build on the things you enjoy doing? Make a list of friends who know you well enough to recognize your unique gifts or interests who may recall any long lost dreams you’ve perhaps lost sight of.
Then invite them to help you come up with business ideas that would make best use of your own unique genius. Warning: Only invite friends who support your desire to be your own boss. Otherwise your brainstorming session will probably lead you back to working in a cubicle.
If that doesn’t work, hire an entrepreneurially-minded career coach who knows how to connect the dots between what you like to do and how you can make your own job doing it.
Lesson 5: Free Yourself From Analysis Paralysis
I know people who are still working on a business plan or website they began nearly a decade ago. They constantly plan and tinker and research and think… But they never launch.
Notice Maria Elena did not spend years, months, or even weeks locked in analysis paralysis. She made a decision one day and two days later was in full blown action mode.
She acted so fast in fact that the Latino food expert Eric Lefkofsky she met at her hairdressers on Saturday reported to work in Ms. Ibanez’s home office on Monday!
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to run out and start an empire tomorrow. But imagine what you could do if you just dove in and started somewhere…. anywhere!
Will you make mistakes along the way? I certainly hope so. Because if you aren’t making mistakes, then you’re not learning anything.
Will you go from $0 to a million dollars in a year? Clearly Maria Elena Ibanez’s story proves that some people do. But this is definitely the exception.
Does that mean you shouldn’t start? Not at all.
It took me seven years before I became an “overnight success!” However, if I’d understood these simple lessons earlier, I’m certain I could have cut that time in half.
There’s one more thing I wish I’d had more of sooner. And it’s not what you think.
You see, everyone thinks it takes money to make money. Not true. I’ve had clients who had lots of money. Some had both money and plenty of time to launch a business. And in all cases, I was able to help them craft a viable idea for their first profit center.
And yet they still couldn’t get out of their own way for one reason and one reason only: Lack of confidence.
You see, it really takes just two things to change course: A good idea and the confidence to act on it.
What about you?
Do you have a great idea but lack the confidence to act? Do you have abundant confidence but are stuck on the idea part? Do you have both? Neither?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!